Stardate: 3087.6 (2267)
Original Air Date: March 30, 1967
Writer: Don Ingalls
Director: Gerd Oswald
“There is, of course, no escape.”
The Enterprise is conducting an ordinary charting mission of a previously unmapped planet, a “very typical” place composed of an iron-silica base, with oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere, and no discernible life forms. There are seemingly “no surprises” according to Spock. While Cartography begins scanning and relaying 988-TG, the Enterprise is off to Starbase 200 when suddenly a massive explosion occurs.
The entire magnetic field in the solar system has “winked” and achieved zero gravity, nearly inverting all of existence itself. Scanners now pick up a living being on the planet, apparently a human. The effects are extraordinary: there has been a time warp distortion, radiation, and a magnetic disruption which has caused violent, unexplained stress and force draining most of the dilithium crystals aboard the Enterprise. Kirk, Spock and a band of four red-shirts beam down to the craggy planet’s surface. There they find a crashed spaceship along with a strange, marooned bearded man named Lazarus (Robert Brown) who begs for help and then collapses. He is reminiscent of Benn Gunn in Treasure Island. The crew brings this man back aboard the Enterprise for medical attention.
After speaking with Starfleet, Code Factor 1 is ordered and the Enterprise is brought to battle stations as concern of an invasion rises. Amidst a string of cataclysmic events Lazarus is revealed to be a suspicious liar. He demands the Enterprise hand over its dilithium crystals under penalty of vengeance. Lazarus then goes rogue and attacks two crewmen in Engineering and steals two dilithium crystals before beaming down to the surface. But when Kirk beams down, this time Lazarus saves Kirk –and the narrative is repeated as Lazarus is kept along in sickbay, breaks out, and steals more dilithium crystals.
Back in sickbay, Lazarus explains that he is actually a time traveler, locked in inter-dimensional battle against a strange force that destroyed his home planet. It appears that anti-matter from a parallel universe has ruptured a hole in our own universe, and that Lazarus is internally torn between two men: Lazarus A and Lazarus B (anti-matter madman Lazarus from the parallel universe). Meanwhile one of the “Lazari” continues wrecking havoc on Engineering in order to steal more crystals in the hopes of powering up his crashed ship on the planet’s surface. However, Kirk follows Lazarus and is then promptly sent through a “corridor” into an alternate dimension where the anti-matter exists in the parallel universe. Here he meets the real Lazarus who explains he is locked in immortal conflict with his double. Should the identical particles in the parallel universes ever meet, it implies the end of all existence as we know it thus Lazarus back in Kirk’s universe must be sent back. Kirk then travels backwards through the corridor where he battles Lazarus and then sends him back through the corridor to battle the alternate version of himself for all of time in order to protect the two universes from collapsing. The Enterprise then destroys Lazarus’s ship so that he will have no way to travel out of the parallel universe, but Kirk ponders the nature of someone being locked in conflict for the totality of time. The Enterprise travels away from this uncharted planet (what happened to the issue with the dilithium crystals being drained?)
This is mostly a mess of an episode in my view but at least it has some deeply complex theoretical physics at play. However, it is burdened with loads of strange pacing, editing, acting, and a variety of dated effects. I am drawn to speculative explorations of parallel universe ideas and at least “The Alternative Factor” is an early attempt at filming such a complex notion (though we have seen more successful efforts in The Twilight Zone).
In addition, another complaint of mine: why is it that the Enterprise simply allows Lazarus to continually roam throughout the ship even though everyone from the Captain down is aware of his ongoing sabotage and robbery efforts? This seems to be a particularly egregious example of the extremely feeble security protocols within Starfleet. And why is the dilithium crystal never solved? How is the Enterprise capable of traveling away at the end if the dilithium crystals have been drained? There are many unanswered questions for me with this outing. I agree with the consensus of most Trekkies. While this episode explores certain ambitious scientific concepts, it is not among the best of Star Trek.
Writer Don Ingalls (1918-2014) was a lifelong friend of Gene Roddenberry, they both worked together for the Los Angeles Police Department. Mr. Ingalls also wrote a handful of television movies such as the 1979 Captain America film. This episode was the first two scripts he wrote for Star Trek. He died at his home in Olympia, Washington in 2014.
Gerd Oswald (1919-1989) was a German-born television director who directed a remarkable 14 episodes of The Outer Limits as well as two Season 1 Star Trek TOS episodes (he also previously directed “The Conscience of the King”).
Star Trek Trivia:
- John Drew Barrymore, son of the great John Barrymore and father of Drew Barrymore, was originally cast as Lazarus, but on the morning filming began he was nowhere to be found. The part had to be quickly recast with Robert Brown and it very nearly canceled the whole episode. The producers filed a grievance with the Screen Actors Guild, which suspended Barrymore’s membership for six months as a result, preventing him from working as an actor during that time. Robert Brown was likely brought to the set immediately on the same day he agreed to be cast. In later years, he recalled the set to be intense and stressful.
- There were other last minute changes in this episode, such as the rewrites brought about by NBC to remove a budding interracial romance (according to a broad consensus) which was deemed too shocking for certain American audiences. Other accounts suggest Gene Roddenberry removed the romance story but not on racist grounds (he felt it had already been used in “Space Seed”).
- The special effects for the extra-dimensional “winking” episodes were achieved by superimposing a moving photograph of the Trifid Nebula over the action.
- We return to Vasquez Rocks in this episode once again for the rocky planetary surface.
- Perhaps the character name Lazarus is a reference to the Biblical character who is risen from the dead.